Category Archives: Science And Society

A Rare Editorial

From Paul Hsieh, on global warming.

I don’t expect this one blog post to immediately change many minds on this contentious issue. For now, I’d be satisfied with making the point that the issue is not the simple slam-dunk as is typically portrayed in the usual news media. Nor are the opponents of global warming hypothesis/Kyoto treaty necessarily stupid or corrupt.

Bad Week For Creationism

Via John Rennie (who seems to be blogging at Scientific American now) comes this sad story about “Dr. Dino” (aka Kent Hovind) and his dinosaur Bible park:

Escambia County authorities this week locked up a museum building at the theme park on North Palafox Street in Pensacola after Circuit Judge Michael Allen ruled the owners were in contempt of court.

Owners of the park, which shows how dinosaurs may have roamed the Earth just a few thousand years ago, did not obtain a building permit before constructing the building in 2002. They have argued in and out of court that it violates their “deeply held” religious beliefs, and that the church-run facility does not have to obtain permits.

Did I say sad? I meant hilarious. What a bunch of scam artists.

A Canary In The Coal Mine?

Well, actually a swan in the wild. It was found dead of avian flu, in Scotland.

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said that if H5N1 was confirmed, ministers would have to make an immediate decision on whether all farm birds across the United Kingdom would be brought indoors.

A decision would also be made on whether restrictions would be imposed on the movement of goods from poultry to eggs.

Not good news for the UK, or the world.

They Have To Be Carefully Untaught

Here’s a study that says that children are natural scientists:

Apparently it takes a concerted effort on the part of many so-called science teachers in the public schools to slowly beat it out of them, over the course of several years.

But I wonder if anyone pondered the implications of this?

Schulz said she believes this is the first study that looks at how probabilistic evidence affects children’s reasoning about unobserved causes. The researchers found that children are conservative about unobserved causes (they don’t always think mysterious things are happening) but would rather accept unobserved causes than accept that things happen at random.

This probably explains the appeal of ID (partly because evolution isn’t properly explained). If one believes that evolution is “random” (which is how it’s too often explained), then there will be a natural tendency to look for the man behind the curtain.

But of course, it’s not. What’s random is the mutations themselves, not how they’re selected. One sees many fallacies related to this in critiques of evolution, in which people figure out the probability of a monkey typing a sonnet, by assuming that each monkey starts anew with each try, and showing that it’s astronomically improbable. With that assumption, of course, the creation of the sonnet is quite unlikely.

But if a monkey gets the first word right, and that’s the starting point for the next monkey, then the result will out, and in a surprisingly short time, because the process isn’t random. It’s directed by an evolutionary force (in this particular case, the desire to have something that looks like a sonnet).

In the natural case, of course, it’s driven by the fact that things that don’t look like sonnets (that is, that have traits that cause their phenotypes to die before reproducing) don’t go on to the next generation.

“Creationists’ Best Recruiting Sergeants”

Madeleine Bunting, on how the militant atheism of Dawkins and Dennett may be backfiring:

…while Dembski, Dawkins and Dennett are sipping the champagne for their very different reasons, there is a party pooper. Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: “Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level.” The nub of Ruse’s argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: “If Darwinism equals atheism then it can’t be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool.”

There’s no room for complacency, urged Ruse over lunch in London last week. Last December’s court ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in some Pennsylvania schools may have been a blow, but now the strategy of the creationist/intelligent-design lobby is to “chisel away at school-board level” across the US. The National Centre for Science Education believes that as many as 20% of US schools are teaching creationism in some form. Evolution is losing the battle, says Ruse, and it’s the fault of Dawkins and Dennett with their aggressive atheism: they are the creationists’ best recruiting sergeants.

Yes. Too many people believe in God for this to be a successful debating tactic. People have to be made to understand that religion and science don’t have to be incompatible, and that we don’t have to abandon science (as the “science” of intelligent design does) when the going gets tough. As Galileo said, the one tells us how to get to heaven, the other describes of what the heavens are made. Of course, with modern science and rocketry, perhaps science will allow us to do both.

“Creationists’ Best Recruiting Sergeants”

Madeleine Bunting, on how the militant atheism of Dawkins and Dennett may be backfiring:

…while Dembski, Dawkins and Dennett are sipping the champagne for their very different reasons, there is a party pooper. Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: “Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level.” The nub of Ruse’s argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: “If Darwinism equals atheism then it can’t be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool.”

There’s no room for complacency, urged Ruse over lunch in London last week. Last December’s court ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in some Pennsylvania schools may have been a blow, but now the strategy of the creationist/intelligent-design lobby is to “chisel away at school-board level” across the US. The National Centre for Science Education believes that as many as 20% of US schools are teaching creationism in some form. Evolution is losing the battle, says Ruse, and it’s the fault of Dawkins and Dennett with their aggressive atheism: they are the creationists’ best recruiting sergeants.

Yes. Too many people believe in God for this to be a successful debating tactic. People have to be made to understand that religion and science don’t have to be incompatible, and that we don’t have to abandon science (as the “science” of intelligent design does) when the going gets tough. As Galileo said, the one tells us how to get to heaven, the other describes of what the heavens are made. Of course, with modern science and rocketry, perhaps science will allow us to do both.